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"Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind when it has once seized on it like a lichen on the rock." - Mary Shelly, Frankenstein, ch. XIII
The Unionist 1:5 (August 29, 1833)
Seating of Students at the Congregational Church
Reprinted in The Connecticut Courant September 2, 1833, p. 2 (Vol. LXIX, No. 3580)
From the (Brooklyn) Unionist, August 29
The last Advertiser declares that the story of the exclusion of Miss Crandall’s scholars from the meeting house “is wholly false.” We expressed surprise at a declaration so unqualified, and whether we had not some cause to do so, we leave our readers to decide, after they have read the following correspondence and the statement subjoined to it.
We say nothing of the feelings which must have dictated such a course, except that we envy not their possessor. We wish merely to put on record the simple fact, that Miss Crandall’s pupils cannot attend public worship on the sabbath, in the only church within three miles of Miss C’s residence, without being called in question for so doing,—nay more—that they are virtually excluded from that place of worship, though some of them it is said are members of the church which regularly assembles there for public worship. And this is a land professedly Christian, in a State which boasts of its benevolent efforts to diffuse the blessings of the gospel among the distant heathen.
To Miss PRUDENCE CRANDALL.
When the committee visited you last February, stating their objections to your school, they understood from you, by your voluntary suggestion, that you should never desire, and never would put your coloured scholars into the meeting house — that you could have preaching at your own house, either black or white, and you also added, that the citizens of Canterbury need have no anxiety on that account, they might be assured, no such request would ever be made.
It appears now, that you have departed from this voluntary declaration and put your colored scholars into pews ever occupied by the white females of the parish. We ask you to inform us soon, by whose license, you have thus taken possession of that part of the meeting house. Canterbury July 26th 1833
ANDREW HARRIS, } Society Com'tee.
(A true copy.) July 20, 1833.
Please inform Dr. Harris to-day.
Canterbury, July 29, 1833.
TO SOLOMON PAYNE, ANDREW HARRIS, and ISAAC KNIGHT,
Gentlemen—I received a letter from you on the 27th in which you asked me to inform you soon by whose licence I have taken possession of that part of the meeting house that was occupied by my colored scholars on the sabbath previous.
I can inform you that the authority, whether lawful or unlawful, by which I permitted my family to enter the gallery of your church, was permission received from two of the Society’s committee, viz. Dr. Harris and Deacon Bacon.
On Saturday the 6th of this month I sent a verbal request by Samuel L. Hough to the gentlemen whom I address, asking your permission to attend Divine worship with you on the sabbath. I asked Captain Hough to inform you that I would purchase seats sufficient for my scholars if agreeable to you, if not, any part or portion of the meeting house you might see fit for us to occupy, would be acceptable. Of this Mr. Hough said he informed you. Dr. Harris, in answer, said we might occupy the seat in the gallery appropriated to colored persons. Mr. Hough then remarked that the seat would not be sufficient for the scholars—Deacon Bacon then replied, that we might take the next pews until we had enough to be seated.
Truly I said to the Committee that visited me in February last—The scholars who come here shall not trouble you on the Sabbath, for we can have preaching, either by colored or white ministers in our own house. The committee made me no reply at the time if I am not mistaken, and I think I am not.
Upon mature consideration (as regular preaching here was not very readily obtained) I considered that I had done entirely wrong in depriving my scholars of the privilege of attending religious worship in this village.
These are my reasons for asking the privilege of entering your church; and all the licence I have received is as given above.
Yours with respect,
Shortly after the above answer was sent by Miss Crandall to the foregoing communication was sent by Miss Crandall to the foregoing communication, she received a verbal message, by Samuel L. Hough, Esq. FROM SOLOMON PAYNE, Esq. directing her not to go into the meeting house again with her pupils. For the truth of this last statement we rely upon the declaration of Samuel L. Hough, Esq.
The Unionist 1:5 (August 29, 1833)
Formation of the Plainfield (CT) Anti-Slavery Society
Reference from The Liberator 12 October 1833, “Anti-Slavery Society of Plainfield and Its Vicinity"
The Unionist of August 29, gives an account of a meeting in Plainfield, Ct. at which the ‘Anti-Slavery Society of Plainfield, and its vicinity,’ was organized. An address was delivered by Mr. Andrew Rockwell, and a constitution adopted. Forty three persons then became members of the Society. The following persons were then chosen officers.
Dea. Rinaldo Burleigh, President
Samuel L. Hough, George Sharpe, Vice Presidents
Edwin Tucker, Rec. Secretary.
Rev. S.J. May, Cor. Secretary.
Unionist Keyword Categories:
1. Canterbury Female Academy
3. African-American Students
4. Prudence Crandall
5. Canterbury Officials
6. Abolitionist Organizing
First Congregational Church of Canterbury. Photo by Cathy Cline - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22577080
Commentary and Analysis
The original Unionist that is the source of this content, does not exist. It would be 1:2:5 - the issue of August 29, as is indicated in the story itself. This issue, as reconstructed here, demonstrates the early effectiveness of this newspaper. The evidence of the hostility projected towards the students proves the contemptuous hostility of the Canterbury leaders. We can thus see in the Connecticut Courant's republication of this article a significant ally gained through the first trial. The reporter for the Courant was clearly impressed with the courtroom demeanor of the students, and the arguments of the pro-Crandall lawyers, and so this, the paper of record for the state of Connecticut, was now willing to republish copy from a newspaper that was not yet into its second full month!
The strategy of Samuel J. May and Arthur Tappan to publish this paper was already being actively vindicated. The republication of this particularly damning exchange, vis-à-vis the christian charity and public credibility of the Canterbury Congregational Society Committee, is significant. By contrast, Prudence Crandall freely admits what she had said in February, and explains how she had changed her mind, including an appeal to the Committee to consider the spiritual welfare of the students. She even indicates a willingness to concede to the demeaning segregationist practice of demanding that Black worshippers stay in the upstairs gallery, where they would be less visible to the white congregants. She and her sister were prepared to sit with the students in the gallery. But none of this was sufficient for those community leaders who considered the school to be an implacable enemy. We are fortunate that this exchange was preserved in such precise detail.
Last, consider the restrained yet still cutting editorial tone of (presumably) Charles C. Burleigh in the brief introduction. He understatedly opens thus: "We say nothing of the feelings which must have dictated such a course, except that we envy not their possessor." This unveiling of the unchristian stinginess of the white men of Canterbury is then fully confirmed in its hypocrisy by the last sentence, that the same people unwilling to have a racially integrated congregation in their neighborhood pride themselves on "benevolent efforts to diffuse the blessings of the gospel among the distant heathen." Back in 1831, in her brilliant published essay, "Religion and the Pure Principles of Morality," Black Bostonian activist and feminist Maria Stewart had reminded her readers that "charity begins at home, and those that provide not for their own, are worse than infidels" (Productions of Mrs. Maria W. Stewart, in Spiritual Narratives, ed. Sue Houchins, Oxford University Press, 1988, p. 19)
Meanwhile, the Unionist had helped spark the formation of the Plainfield Anti-Slavery Society, led by Charles Burleigh's own father, Rinaldo. The geometric proliferation of local anti-slavery societies across the decade of the 1830s is one of the most impressive documents of grassroots organizing in American history. But such a development would not have been possible without the presence of anti-slavery arguments in prominent places such as pulpits and newspapers. So the role the Unionist played here is crucial. The engagement of the entire Burleigh family in the crisis precipitated by the Canterbury Female Academy is now clear - Charles editing The Unionist, his brother William and sister Mary teaching at the school, and their father Rinaldo heading the Plainfield Anti-Slavery Society. Their mother would soon become active in the Female Anti-Slavery Society, as we shall see.